by Jenna Meyers
The design industry loves buzzwords to describe office design: workspace that is flexible, collaborative, innovative, agile, and sustainable, to name a few. These are popular words in our industry lexicon because they define many of the sought-after trends that have been sweeping the design scene for the last decade. However, over time, these words have become so commonplace that their original intentions and meanings have become diluted. One of the best examples of this is the phrase: “workplace strategy.” The concept has received a lot of buzz and research; clients know they need it. But what really is it and why is it so powerful?
Workplace strategy focuses on marrying three important aspects of the modern workplace: 1) applying better space utilization metrics; 2) optimizing real estate costs; and 3) updating an office space to meet current design trends. However, none of that really means anything unless a workplace is designed correctly. Simply put: Workplace strategy is first and foremost about people. A company can have the most streamlined business model and the coolest looking office, but if the space isn’t uniquely designed to suit specific employees and the way they work best, then odds are the company won’t be operating at maximum productivity and efficiency.
Behind every successful company are engaged employees who have all the tools they need to do their job the best they can. Wouldn’t every company like this to be true? Having engaged employees means having a workforce that is excited about the work they do and the company they do it for. For employers, this results in less staff turnover, greater productivity, and increased employee satisfaction. This is why harnessing the energy of a successful workplace strategy is so important.
Take the concept of the open office. It seems like the perfect facility management solution: Reducing the number of private offices results in lower build-out and real estate costs, and an open and transparent work environment can help to foster communication and collaboration among staff. Yet, the open office concept is constantly challenged as being distracting and even disruptive, prompting some to point to unintended consequences such as lower productivity and employee dissatisfaction. However, in most cases, it’s not the concept of the open office that is at fault; the error is in the execution and implementation of designing — and preparing people to work in — an open office. To create a successful workspace environment (open office or not), designers need to be attentive listeners to understand how people work, and then design a space that allows them to be as productive as they can.
Case in point: the design of a new North American office for Cimpress, the world leader in mass customization and its well-known brand Vistaprint. Outgrowing its office in Lexington, Mass., Cimpress decided to move to 275 Wyman Street in Waltham and selected Margulies Perruzzi Architects (MPA) to design an energetic workplace that would inspire creativity, encourage employee empowerment, and promote its culture of change. Cimpress’ previous workspace had an open office-style culture, and the company was keen to evaluate the concept of a 100% flexible workspace to improve upon it.
However, after testing several mock-up designs, Cimpress and the design team recognized that due to the technology and infrastructure required, this concept would end up being more of a hindrance for employees. Instead, Cimpress and MPA modified its approach, outfitting each workstation with a sit-to-stand desk for individual flexibility and creating several alternate workspaces such as quiet rooms and open collaboration areas. Cimpress successfully followed the golden rule of any open office concept: If you take office features away — be it private offices or workstation panel height — you must give something back in return. In this case, the addition of several types of quiet spaces for heads-down work helped mitigate the issue of distractions in the open office.
By taking the time to understand its workforce, Cimpress was able to implement an effective workplace strategy that resulted in an office designed with an eye toward talent recruitment, retention, and satisfaction — in other words, its people.
Jenna Meyers, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, is a senior interior designer at Margulies Perruzzi Architects.